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  • Chris Wylie

How to English:past simple

How to English is a blog series in which I share tips and tricks I have learned in my 25 years of teaching ESL. The goal is to clearly and concisely present the “must know” information for the given topic. I would love for other teachers and students to comment and share their knowledge, as well.


​TARGET: Mastery of past simple is confirmed when the student can:

  1. Consistently create past forms of regular and irregular verbs

  2. Form affirmative and negative statements

  3. Form ‘yes/no’ and information questions

  4. Use time markers associated with past simple

  5. Demonstrates understanding of meaning and use for actions and states which both started and finished in the past.


FORM:

  • Regular verbs

  • Students must understand that regular verbs have ‘ed’ added to the end of the verb

  • If the verb eds in a consonant + Y, delete Y and add IED

  • Ex: Cry ⇒ Cried


  • If the verb ends in a vowel + Y, just add ED as usual.

  • Ex: Play ⇒ Played



  • If the verb ends in CONSONANT + Y, there is a spelling change (IES).


  • Irregular verbs

  • Students must understand that some past simple verbs do not use ED. They have a completely different form. Irregular verbs must be memorized.

  • Ex: Sing⇒ Sung; Eat ⇒ Ate


  • The 3 most important irregular verbs are BE, DO, and HAVE.

  • Ex: Be ⇒ Was (I, He, She, It) and Were (You, We, They).

Tip: Give students a list of irregular verbs early and drill them often. You can find one on my website, chrisinenglish.com.

  • Statement structure.

  • In an affirmative statement, basic word order is SUBJECT-VERB-OBJECT

  • EX.The boy watched the movie.


  • In a negative statement, basic word order is SUBJECT-HELPING VERB-NEGATIVE WORD-VERB-OBJECT

  • EX. The boy did not watch the movie.

  • Notice that the HELPING VERB is past simple, not the MAIN VERB.


  • In a negative statement, if the VERB is a form of BE, don’t use an OBJECT. But you can use an adjective.

  • EX. The girl was not hungry.


  • Question structure.

  • In a yes/no question, basic word order is HELPING VERB-SUBJECT-VERB-OBJECT

  • EX. Did the boy watch the movie?

  • Notice that the HELPING VERB is past simple in a question, not the MAIN VERB.


  • In a yes/no answer, basic word order is SUBJECT-HELPING VERB.

  • EX. Yes, he did.


  • Do not use a main verb in a yes/no answer.

  • In an information question, basic word order is INFORMATION WORD-HELPING VERB-SUBJECT-VERB-OBJECT.

  • What movie did he watch?

Tip: Students will make mistakes differentiating was and were. This is a good opportunity to guide them towards self-correction.

MEANING AND USE:

  • Past simple describes actions that both started and finished in the past.

  • I started reading the book last week. I finished it yesterday.

  • Last year I did not go on vacation

  • Did he go to the game?

  • What did she cook for dinner?


  • Past simple describes states that both started and finished in the past.

  • I lived on Grape Street.

  • He was not tall.

  • Did she have green eyes?

  • What was your first email address?


  • Time markers that students should know:

  • Ago

  • Last

  • Yesterday

Tip: Make sure students understand that we say ‘last night’, not ‘yesterday night.’

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